Josh checked his watch and yelled, “We’re gonna be late.”
Janie moved unhurriedly down the stairs in a tasteful, black dress.
Josh looked his sister over. “It took you that long to change out of work clothes?”
“No, silly. I had to redo my hair and makeup.”
Her hair and makeup looked the same to him, but Josh knew if he said that she would disappear upstairs for another thirty minutes. “Fine. Let’s go.”
Arriving at five till six, they were early enough to keep Mom off their backs, and he got a parking spot in the shade. It was still spring, but the heat and humidity had been in the nineties for over a week. Josh cracked the car windows while Janie scooted out of the car.
As soon as they opened the door to the building, Allen grabbed Janie and hugged her. “It’s about time. Our mothers are nuts.”
Jolene returned her cousin’s hug. “What can we do?”
“Neither of them can bring themselves to look in on Dad. They sent me. I don’t want to go in alone.”
“Of course not.” Janie took Allen’s arm and lead him down the hall. “Come on, Josh.”
Josh glared at his twin’s back. He had planned to skip this part, but he couldn’t leave Allen in the lurch. The trio walked down the center aisle. When Allen slowed, Josh shook his head, stepped forward, and looked in the casket. “We’re in the right room, aren’t we?”
“Of course. How does Dad look?”
“Well,” Josh grimaced, “he don’t look like himself.”
Janie pushed her twin aside and looked in the casket. “Allen, did Uncle George want to be buried in a toupee?”
“What?” Allen took a deep breath and looked. “That’s not Dad.”
“That’s what I thought.” Josh nodded, pleased he was right.
“Where is he? And who is that?” Janie pointed at the unknown man.
“Don’t know,” Josh said.
“You’re the oldest,” Janie said while Allen’s head nodded in agreement.
The twins and their cousin were born on the same day. Josh was three minutes older than Janie and two hours older than Allen. Janie and Allen always threw down the age card when there was something distasteful to do. Josh saw the mortician through a tiny window in the door to the left of the casket. Knowing an argument would only prolong the enviable, Josh walked over to the side door and opened it. The mortician’s expression told Josh that grievers didn’t open that door.
“Mr. Miller. Who’s this?” Josh pointed toward the casket
“No, sir. My uncle was bald and never wore a toupee. He also wore glasses.”
Mr. Miller, followed by an employee, stormed across the room, looked inside the casket, and ran past the kids, screaming. “Stop! Michael, stop.”
The employee stared wide-eyed at the casket with his mouth open.
“Got anything to tell us, Donnie?” Josh asked.
“No. Not me.” He moved to step around Josh, but Allen blocked his escape.
“Where’s Uncle George?” Janie asked.
Donnie shrugged. “Don’t know. Today’s my first day, but Michael’s been here forever. He’s down in the crematorium.”
“He’s…” Allen ran a hand through his hair. “Mom will come unglued.”
Mr. Miller rushed back into the room. “Stall them. Donnie, no one comes in.” Unlocking the wheels, Mr. Miller rolled the casket with the unknown man out of the room.
“Aren’t you pre-med? Why you here?” Josh asked.
“Home from college for the summer. Dad decided working in Uncle Brian’s mortuary would be a good experience.”
“Aren’t you supposed to heal people, not bury them?” Josh asked.
“Exactly what I said. And yet, here I am.” Donnie ushered the others into the hallway. “Watcha gonna tell your family?”
“What we won’t say is that Uncle George was almost cremated?” Josh pointed to the hallway that was now packed. “Forget age. Allen, you have to say something.”
Allen took a deep breath. “There’s been a slight delay.”
When the grumbling started, Janie said, “While we wait, we’ll share memories of Uncle George. Josh will start.” When Josh shot her a hard stare, Janie stepped into relative safety between Donnie and Allen.
Aunt Sharon dabbed her eyes. “Dear Joshua.”